Why Women Hate IT

In 2000, almost half of all IT job openings went begging. At the same time, women were leaving the IT ranks at twice the rate of men. How can we stop this madness?

By Cheryl Bentsen
Fri, September 01, 2000

CIO — The Boca Raton Resort & Club looms over Florida's Gold Coast like some swank pink phantasm of the Jazz Age. A gaudy, sherbet confection of Spanish-Mediterranean, Moorish and Gothic excess, with hidden gardens, barrel-tile roofs, archways, ornate columns and critter-studded fountains—the ladies' rooms alone could pass for posh digs on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

The resort, spread over 356 acres, offers a confounding choice of pleasures: 34 tennis courts, two championship golf courses, five pools, a marina, the usual salons attendant to health and beauty and, of course, a half-mile of perfect, private beach. And there are smaller enjoyments as well—white-jacketed, multilingual waiters hefting perspiring silver trays of freshly squeezed lime coolers.

It's a small wonder in this setting—where recent guests have included former President George Bush, Robert Redford, John Travolta, Oprah Winfrey and Elton John—that the attendees at last May's Giga Information Group's GigaWorld IT Forum 2000 would stand out, a bit like William Golding's plane-wrecked schoolboys in Lord of the Flies. At the opening session—a rousing call to action on globalization for e-business (I smell IT spirit!)—the optimism among the thousand or so mid- and senior-level IT managers brought together to talk infrastructure and application development, CRM and wireless protocols is palpable. But what's wrong with this picture? I glance around the grand ballroom and realize that I am one of the few women in a veritable sea of white males.

It reminds me of my stint as a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times, where my buddies, the baseball writers, were all guys, and the Dodger organization sent me a tie for Christmas. Sports guys, IT guys. It's a similar kind of vibe. The Boys of IT. Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud's not-so-friendly student, colleague and adversary, used the term puer aeternus (eternal boy) to describe the archetypal boy (women: think Peter Pan, problematic boyfriends and ex-husbands) whose traits include spontaneity and restlessness, proclivity to tinker, prankishness, ties to mom and awkwardness around girls. Thanks to IT, puer aeternus now commands a big salary and stock options, and is the most coveted, heavily recruited category of professionals on the face of the earth. His counterpart, puella aeterna, the eternal girl, might as well be home baking cookies.

James Brown sang it so long ago: It's a man's, man's, man's world! Can it still be so? In IT, absolutely.

Boys and Girls: Not Together

The facts are beyond dispute. A study, "Opportunities and Gender Pay Equity in New Economy Occupations," issued by the White House Council of Economic Advisers last May noted that women make up only 29 percent of workers in IT occupations, compared with 47 percent in the general workforce. And despite high-profile exceptions like Carly Fiorina, Hewlett-Packard's CEO in Palo Alto, Calif., women are virtually absent from the ranks of senior IT management.

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